Posted on November 02 2018
With cooler weather upon us, we are now more focused on our indoors. It's time to look for one of the most impossible-to-shop-for pieces of furniture in our living spaces. But first, which word do you use - sofa, couch, chesterfield? Along with the lesser used "settee", most people use these words interchangeably. Are they the same thing, if so, why are there so many ways of saying the same thing?!
I don't have the answer to that question, but here is a look back at the origins of these words.
Derives from the Medieval settee. It was a long, wooden bench with a straight back and arms.
Derives from the French word coucher, meaning to lay down. It made its debut during Renaissance time. Fabric was introduced to make the settee a lot softer and more opulent.
Derives from England. It was originally a sofa which was upholstered and buttoned. The back and arms were usually the same height.
Derives from Arabian style low level seating with a definite Modernist influence.
Potāto Potáto, tomāto tomáto... However we call to it, most of us have a hard time choosing the right one for our spaces. My mom is shopping for a new sofa these days. I think this is perhaps the third one since we got ours 18 plus years ago. It seems that quality does make a difference.
Someone once told me that to test a sofa's quality, try lifting a corner. If you end up in traction, you've got a good one! Many people stress about the daunting task of purchasing a new sofa or couch. Cost aside, there are so many choices out there, it's hard to know what to do, how to choose.
A GOOD COVER UP
I think that the first and most important consideration is to decide on the type of upholstery - leather or fabric or faux (hide/suede/vinyl). You don't want to fall in love with a sofa only to find out that it does not come in the covering of your choice. For me, it's going to be leather every time. I love the wipeability and its eventual weathered patina. And because we love garlic, leather is better for not retaining unwanted household odours. Hard wearing fabrics are also good for seating in rooms which don't get a lot of abuse. Stain protectors have come a long way, so either way, I wouldn't worry too much.
MIX OR MATCH
What style of sofa do you want? The lines of the piece say a lot about the style. The upholstery say a lot too. Look at legs as well. Do you want bun feet or something more sleek and slender? It's nice to have a homogeneous look in your living space with a sofa that matches the style of room or architecture of the home. But it can be very interesting to have a design which juxtaposes with its surrounding. That bit of design tension can be really refreshing and make your sofa a great focal point.
You should measure the space where your new sofa will go and measure the piece itself. Believe me that looks are deceiving in a large showroom with high ceilings. The piece will look surprisingly large in your home with human scale ceiling heights. When measuring the room, allow for circulation around it. Give yourself minimum 24 inches. Also measure the depth of the sofa. With homes getting smaller and smaller, many companies understand space restrictions and have designed condo sized furniture. Look for models with slender arms. That way, the piece looks more sleek and you will have more bum space!
Are you looking for a straight, straight with chaise, sectional or 2 piece set? If you have a narrow space, opt for a straight sofa. You may not even have room for a coffee table, so look for cute and trendy side tables to serve your needs. If you are interested in a straight with chaise, make sure the chaise is a separate piece so you can place it anywhere along the sofa. This makes it more flexible for moving your sofa to another room or another home. The foot rest can also be used as a soft coffee table. If your room has many points of entry, you might have to get a 2 piece set to offer enough seating, separated for flow. My personal favourite is a sectional sofa, which usually does not take up any more room than a 2 piece, but allows for more seating. This shape is a great way of delineating spaces without walls. Sometimes you can have one separated for a variety of seating arrangements. It's a convivial style.
One reason my mom is looking for a new sofa is because she always sits on the same spot, so that area has worn out and ripped. This type of damage could have been avoided if her sofa had removable cushions, good for rotation and for cleaning. Also for a 3 seater, do you look for a 3 cushion or 2 cushion design? If you have a large family or host often, 3 cushions may be more comfortable for large gatherings. I also prefer that the back cushions be firm and fixed. Loose types tend to sag a lot and become very uncomfortable. Again, look for models that have slender arms with perhaps side cushions for comfort but you don't lose any seating space if you can remove them for 3 person seating.
As much as trendy colours may be alluring, stay away bold colours and textures when choosing your sofa. It's an expensive investment and one which is the focal point of any living room space. You don't want to be sick of it before the tags come off. Rotate your accent cushions or ground the sofa with a chic rug for variety. Even simple lined leather sofas can look very dated if you opt for a trendy colour or too bright a colour.
SIT ON IT, FONZIE!
It's so important for you to sit on as many models as possible. Wear light weight clothing and low heeled shoes when sofa shopping. You want to make sure that the tushy test is done with the idea of "being at home" in mind. Take off your winter coat before sitting down. Make sure the cushions aren't too deep for your legs. This is a common mistake made by a lot of people who can't see this problem in a large showroom where everything looks a lot smaller. Sofa shopping is next to mattress shopping for level of difficulty. Make sure your new seating is well-constructed and look carefully at all angles to ensure it's not damaged nor flawed in its manufacturing. Get all the members of your family to try them out, not just the grownups.